Indian Decade

Disappointment in Thimphu

The meeting between the Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries in Thimphu was a disappointing mixed bag.

Shakespeare famously wrote in Hamlet: ‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.’ The same could still be said about India-Pakistan relations.

The two neighbours are so near and yet so far, a point underscored once again on February 6, when Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao met her counterpart Salman Bashir in Thimphu on the sidelines of an SAARC conference.

The talks delivered a mixed bag of results. On the negative side, there was no joint statement at the end of the talks, and no joint press conference with the two principals. They remained in different orbits and stuck to positions that are completely unacceptable to the other. Pakistan, for its part, waved its preferred new red flag—the alleged involvement of ‘Hindu terrorists’ in the February 2007 Samjhauta Express blast in Panipat, in which dozens of Pakistani citizens were killed. India, of course, was having none of this, and Rao insisted to Bashir that India would share new details of its investigations into the attack as and when they become available.

India raised the issue of the snails-paced investigation into the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, which many in India view as the country’s own 9/11. However, Bashir and his colleagues rubbished such criticism, and pointed to what they said was the even slower investigation into the Samjhauta blast.

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But the biggest disappointment of the Rao-Bashir talks was that they failed to decide on when Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi would be visiting India. Ahead of the talks, there had been high expectations in both countries that at the very least the meeting would yield a firmer date for a Qureshi visit to India. But it wasn’t to be. In the end, all they could do was repeat the usual mantra of needing to ‘carry forward this process.’

However, there was at least some good news. Unlike July’s failed meeting between the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers that took place in Islamabad, when talks ended abruptly and acrimoniously, the Thimphu meet was very civilized. The two foreign secretaries conducted themselves maturely, exhibiting a rare restraint while briefing the press separately. Rao pulled her punches while talking to the media on Pakistan’s alleged sins of omission over the 26/11 investigations, while Bashir avoided any fire and brimstone rhetoric. It’s something, at least.